Southeast Virginia Tallies the Damage

Three tornadoes swept through central and southeastern Virginia on April 28, 2008, leaving behind a 25-mile trail of smashed homes, tossed cars and more than 200 injured residents.
SOURCE: | The Washington Post - April 30, 2008
By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

SUFFOLK, Va. April 29 -- Jennifer and Richard Schmack maneuvered their cars around an obstacle course of fallen trees, downed power lines and piles of discarded furniture.

They came to see what was left of their house.

Inside, wet insulation hung from the ceiling. Toys were tossed around the floor, which was covered with pine tree branches and dirt. Part of the roof was gone, exposing the first sunny blue sky in 24 hours.

"I still can't grasp it," Jennifer Schmack, 29, said as she looked around. "The house obviously needs to be torn down."

The Schmacks were among the first residents allowed back into their homes after six tornadoes swept through southeastern Virginia on Monday, injuring more than 200 people and destroying about 145 houses. Emergency officials put early cost estimates at more than $21 million but expected the total to climb. Suffolk and Colonial Heights were hit hardest.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who declared a state of emergency in the devastated areas, visited with evacuees Tuesday before touring damaged areas along with local officials. A somber Kaine strolled about a half-mile, talking to residents about their experiences. Many residents were allowed into their homes only to retrieve an item or two, if they could find anything.

"There was definitely a miraculous quality to this," Kaine said.

Most of the injured had been treated for minor cuts and scrapes. At least a dozen people remained hospitalized, six in critical condition. No deaths were reported.

The Schmacks, along with a group of friends, spent hours at their one-story home in Sadler Heights as they sorted through belongings, some of which were found several streets away. They managed to salvage Jennifer's wedding dress, Richard's hockey memorabilia and some of their children's stuffed animals. Two hamsters and one of two fish survived. Some photo albums were recovered, but others were a soppy mess.

"My life is strewn across the yard for everyone to see," Jennifer Schmack said.

A trio of tornadoes hopscotched across Virginia along a 25-mile path Monday.

The first tornado touched down about 1 p.m. in Brunswick County. The second struck Colonial Heights about 3:40 p.m. The third tornado, which hit Suffolk, touched down 10 times from 4:30 to 5 p.m., with most damage in the Hillpoint Farms and Burnett Mills areas. The tornadoes struck at a time when many people were not home, officials said.

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